Juggling Culture Shock

If my experience with culture shock has taught me anything, it’s that I’ll just have to sit it out. Still, my head can’t tell my heart to be happy.

Albert Meijer | albert_meijer@hotmail.com

I take my coffee to a table that looks out over the university campus. In many ways, this square could be anywhere in the world: straight-forward brick buildings designed in the seventies, empty design chairs scattered around, patches of grass with tall trees proudly showing their autumn colours. It’s only the people that make it clear that we are, in fact, in Japan.

On the stairs of ‘Building A’, are students who are practicing their dance-moves, like they do every day. In their head, they’re in a J-pop video. Their arm movements are perfectly coordinated. They’re not practicing for a night out though: it is forbidden to dance after a certain time at night. Sometimes, policemen come into clubs to arrest all those who are dancing. I’m not kidding. True story.

In front of the dancers are the jugglers. In deep concentration, they throw their balls, cones and diabolos in the air, for hours every day. It doesn’t seem fun at all, but I find it intriguing to watch them from behind the windows of the cafeteria. Their faces when they drop a ball; their robotic arm movements; the determination to be really good at something, if only at juggling: it’s fascinating.

jugglers

Living in Osaka is not always easy. The amazement at the sight of something weird on every street corner has been replaced by a dull sense of culture shock. It’s not Japan’s fault: Japan is pretty amazing. It’s me.

I see a pattern. The feeling I have at this moment is related to emotions I’ve had in earlier periods of my life, those past semesters spent in foreign countries: the trouble I had with fitting in with the locals on a Swedish island, the frustration over the grumpiness of waiters in Vienna and the deep hatred for Scandinavian winters. ‘Culture shock’ is my middle name.

If my experience with culture shock has taught me anything, it’s that I’ll just have to sit it out: the frustrations about small things will pass, and I can go back to being grateful again of being able to live in a wonderful, new foreign country. Still, my head can’t tell my heart to be happy. Bitching about the peculiarities of a strange country won’t solve anything, but it’s good to let off steam once in a while.

I might never understand the Japanese mindset, but I do know that I won’t care as much about these differences next week. It’s not these frustrations that will stick in my memories. Thinking about Sweden and Vienna mainly brings back good memories: loving friends, sweet romances and crazy adventures. Japan won’t be much different, I think. In three years’ time, I won’t care about those incomprehensible jugglers, or the fact that I can’t shake my badonkadonk in clubs. I’ll think about the people and places I fell in love with. I love you Japan. But it’s a complicated relationship.

If you liked Albert’s article, also read Favourite European Songs : “Dickes B reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”

 

Albert pfAlbert Meijer, People’s Editor
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Albert writes about the student body of the Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.

Euroculture Groningen Class on a Mission: Exploring the Brussels Jungle

From 28-31 October 2012, the MA Euroculture Groningen class went on an excursion to Brussels. Armed with cameras, (digital) compasses, and semi-rested minds due to the previous week’s reading week (which was by most interpreted as a relaxing holiday), we set off for the six-hour train ride and waved goodbye to some of our teachers.

Floor Boele van Hensbroek | floorbvh@gmail.com

Wildest first impression

floor1After arrival, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and started exploring Europe’s political heart. Most of us had not seen Brussels before and we were surprised by its sparkling beauty. Secretly I had expected to see cold and stately buildings, people in suits with deadly-serious glances but, in reality, Brussels is a charming city with a rich history and a lively atmosphere. After having seen the Grande Place, Rue de Bouchers, Place Flagey and tons of chocolatiers showing off their chocolate in creative ways (chocolate hippos?) we stopped for some vlaamse friet. This gave us renewed strength and good soil for our next destination: Delirium Café. This bar is known for its lo(ooo)ng beer list and, of course, we wanted to grab this opportunity to extend our knowledge of this well-appreciated drink. Beer beyond your wildest dreams flowed from the taps, like cactus beer and spice beer which reminded us of Christmas. We enjoyed listening (and watching) a teenager brass band that had spontaneously dropped in and rocked the café with catchy tunes and a swarm of dancing fans. Brussels kept surprising me! Let’s say: we went to bed satisfied.

The coffee smell from Barroso’s desk: the European Commissionfloor5

The next day brought with it some serious business. After stuffing ourselves with pain au chocolats at the hotel breakfast, we visited the European Youth Forum: a platform for youth organisations throughout Europe. The forum represents and advocates for the rights, needs and interests of all young people in Europe by engaging and participating in both national and international initiatives. After the Youth Forum, and a quick lunch on the go, we visited the European Commission. I am not sure what we expected but probably some juicier insider information than the general information talk on the European Union that we got. The speaker was however intriguing and he was able to answer some questions. Also, I found it cool to be so close to where the magic happens, if you know what I mean. Secretly, I was quite impressed  by the EU’s political buildings, as if I could almost smell the coffee on Barroso’s desk, or as if I was just an instant away from important decision-making processes ready to determine my future (OK, let’s not exaggerate). For the first time, I started to think about a career with the EU. I have always neglected this option as I see myself as non-competitive, a bit weird, and overly chaotic, and for some reason this doesn’t rhyme with ‘EU career’. But well, who knows…? After the Commission we visited the Committee of the Regions, where we were warmly welcomed and informed extensively on the work of the CoR. In the evening we had a splendid dinner at a restaurant called Le Volle Gas, situated at Ixelles Elsene. We walked to most of our destinations, when we had the opportunity see lots of the city and, even better, to question each other about our future dreams, past experiences, opinions and knowledge of silly jokes.

Ceci, n’est pas une histoire: Lobby Planet EU

Early the next morning we visited Musée Magritte. Magritte, you must know from his famous “ceci n’est pas une pipe” written under a painting of a pipe. If you ever go to Brussels, don’t miss this one! Thereafter we had a meeting with Koen Roovers, a University Groningen alumnus and coordinator of an ALTER-EU project (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation) at CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory). Of this meeting I will tell you some more as it has opened my eyes to the reality of the EU decision-making processes in Brussels.floor

ALTER-EU consists of about 200 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms that campaign against the increasing influence of corporate lobbyists on the political agenda of Europe, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms. One interesting phenomenon that ALTER-EU campaigns against is the ‘revolving door’, through which many EU officials go. This means that when they leave their EU job, they soon start working for corporations or lobby firms, often even in the same policy area. It also happens that lobbyists go through the revolving door and start working for the EU. As ALTER-EU itself states “When this happens, corporate groups gain inside-knowledge, vital contacts, and above all, powerful influence”’. An example of a fellow who took the revolving door is Mogens Peter Carl, who was Director-General at DG Environment until 2009 and, only six months later, became senior adviser to one of Brussels’ biggest lobby consultancies which, amongst others, represents a vehicle company. Well that just stinks! Don’t you think? ALTER-EU demands tough, new rules to block the revolving door, such as a ban of at least two years before EU staff can become lobbyists. ALTER-EU offered us a booklet called “Lobby Planet EU”, which shows a map of Brussels with all the lobby firms and large corporations marked on it. Just looking at it makes you think… Brussels really is a wasp’s nest!

Last minute surprise in El Parlamento Europeofloor3

On the same day we also visited the European Parliament. Unfortunately, the information talk was again not entirely adapted to the knowledge we already had on the EU and its Parliament, however we were pleasantly surprised when in the end a Dutch MEP’s personal assistant dropped in to give us some nice insider information on his job. After the visit I asked our supervisor (and ex-Euroculture student), James Leigh, whether he ever considered working for the EU. He answered by describing EU workers as ‘glorified slaves’. Enough said I guess.

At this point it was time to hurry to the train station, buy some last minute chocolates and get back to Groningen. I think we all felt tired, but satisfied. Indeed, we were much more knowledgeable about Brussels, the EU, and definitely each other.

Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Contributing writer

floorI am Floor, Dutch, and 25 years young/old. I studied interdisciplinary social sciences at Utrecht University before starting with Euroculture. I love travelling, dancing, art, theatre, documentaries, tasty food, classy wine and.. actually a lot of other things. I was born in the bush of Zambia with a bush of black curly hair, although now I’m blond as blond can be 🙂 I’m a cynical optimist, that looks for truth even though I believe that all truth is constructed.